There is no free lunch
The thought of adorning our bodies in the skins of what used to be living, breathing beings shocks and horrifies most ethically-aware fashionistas. But is it that cut and dry? Does wearing fur really equate someone to Cruella de Vil? Is faux fur a godsend, alleviating us of all our ethical fur-related concerns? The answer may not be as clear as one might think.
The well-known downside of using real fur is that it is cruel to animals. It seems bizarre that humans have taken to killing multiple animals just to produce a single fashionable outfit. While one can rationalize using furs in colonial days, due to the lack of alternative garb, continuing to kill these animals hundreds of years later seems dated to say the least. Additionally, animal cruelty is not the only downside to real fur.
Fur is also bad for the environment. Obviously, it is an ecological tragedy for endangered species to be killed for their fur. Of course, the industry regulates fur harvesting, so it is much less prominent now; however, poachers continue to illegally harvest animals for their coats, in spite of the industry’s mandates. The other environmental issue with fur is that in processing it, harmful chemicals are used, which can be bad for the workers and can pollute the surrounding land. Speaking of which, lots of land has to be clear-cut to farm fur, which is a more common method for procuring fur, as opposed to hunting. When this land is leveled for the farms, the preexisting natural habitat is destroyed, often causing an imbalance in surrounding habitats, which radiates outward like a ripple on the surface of a pond. The development of a tiny farm can cause ecological harm for many years.
That is all pretty doom-and-gloom, but there are some upsides to using fur. For instance, it is good for the economy and provides jobs. It is also great to combine with other farming because it requires more work in the winter when traditional farming of flora slows down. The meat from the fur animals can be used for human consumption or to feed other animals that will eventually work their way up the food chain and onto our dinner plates. Meat is not a very sustainable food source, but at least this way none of the animal goes to waste. The same cannot be said for the meat industry. There has also been some indication, but no hard evidence, that hunting and trapping animals for their fur helps control certain animal populations. This is vital in maintaining the balance among ecological systems. In fact, an argument could be made that fur farming is sustainable because as long as humans do not kill all of the animals (or the planet in the process) then the fur will not run out.
But what about faux fur? Where does come in? Do we champion it as the ethical choice, because no animals are harmed in the making of faux fur? While we cannot trivialize this aspect of fur’s fake cousin, we cannot ignore the disadvantages of faux fur.
Faux fur is worse for the environment than real fur, because it is made out of petroleum, and is thus non-biodegradable. This means it is polluting in production, and does not break down, so will sit in landfills for up to 1,000 years (by contrast, real fur can break down within a year). Even before the faux fur breaks down as you are wearing it or washing it, the garment sheds microplastics, which are extremely detrimental to the environment, and in particular to marine life. To top it all off, it takes three times as much energy to create faux fur than it does to harvest real fur. This energy comes from non-renewable, air-polluting sources so the downsides to this are pretty obvious.
If harming the environment wasn’t a large enough deterrent, then consider the human side of the equation. While the production of faux fur has created more jobs, for the most part these jobs are hazardous and low-paying. The chemicals used to create the faux fur is extremely bad for human health and since work like this is usually outsourced to developing countries, the pay and worker’s rights are not well regulated.
Finally, the utility of faux fur just does not compare to that of real fur. Faux fur is not as warm, soft, or nice-looking as real fur. It is cheaper and easier to care for though, which often labels faux fur as the “economy” option – giving real fur the label of luxury.
Real fur kills animals, faux fur kills the environment. Or rather, humans kill both animals and the environment in the pursuit of fashionable clothes. In turn, both methods of obtaining fur impact humans: the underrepresented, over-exposed to chemicals, working class that inevitably gets screwed over by the whims of the powerful, but detached, fashion CEO. So, which fur is better?